If you do nothing, nothing will happen | npENGAGE

If you do nothing, nothing will happen

By on May 1, 2009


I attended NTEN’s NTC conference in San Francisco this week.  Like Holly Ross, I was BLOWN AWAY by the great work that is being done out there by so many organizations, helping so many people.   One of the truly great things about my move from for-profit tech to non-profit tech is how absolutely inspired I am each and every day.  I used to be pretty cavalier about what I did “saving the world.”  Now I see it every day and I’m so humbled by the thousands of folks who move mountains to move their missions.  But I’m also a little overwhelmed by how much more there is to be done. And frustrated by how slow we seem to be moving.

Clay Shirky opened the session with one of the best keynotes I’ve ever heard.  Not only was he a great speaker, with some incredible examples that proved his points, but he said a few things that really stuck with me:

1) Fail Informatively:  I LOVE this.  It should inspire all of us to try new things, reiterate when they don’t work and try again.  Lather, rinse, repeat. 

2) Many to Many and Many to Each Other:  The advent of social networks has opened up a whole new world of folks organizing without an organizer, and how powerful that is!

And my personal favorite (and the title of this blog),

3)  If you do nothing, nothing will happen.

I think the country (and the world for that matter) has been in a state of suspended animation for the last several months.  Financial crises, government bailouts, 2 front international conflicts and now a flu pandemic has everybody hunkered down in their homes, riding it out.  While some of this behavior is appropriate and for most businesses (for profit or non-profit), a reality of an uncertain time, I can’t help but wonder what the long term impact will be.  Once people want to start spending again, what will they spend it on?  There won’t have been much innovation for the past year, so where’s the “killer app” that will get people to open their checkbooks?

One of the biggest impacts of an economic slowdown is the long term collateral damage to innovation.  Investment falls, innovation withers, no impetus to change behavior, investment falls further, and so on.

If we want to break this cycle, we have to continue to innovate.  We have to give people a compelling reason to re-engage.  And I’m not talking about building the Aswan damn here, I’m talking about the thousands of small innovations that happen every day, and turning them into bigger innovations that move people, that get them out of their cocoons to say “I’m gonna do my part to get us moving.”   I’m going to make sure stimulus money in my community is spent on things that create jobs and make my community a better place.   I’m going to send that check to Name Your Favorite Organization Here that I didn’t send in December because I didn’t know what was going to happen in January.   I’m  going to encourage my employer to worry less about expenses, and more about revenue—which implies new thinking, new ideas, and selective investment. 

One thing’s for sure, if you do nothing, nothing will happen. 


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